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Supervisor seeks discussion about county's future course

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Ironing out Riverside County's fiscal priorities for 2013-14 is among the leading items on the Board of Supervisors' agenda tomorrow, when Supervisor John Tavaglione is slated to lead a discussion about resolving the county hospital's shortfall and assessing the value of merging agencies.

Tavaglione last week introduced a three-page memorandum listing a number of issues that he says had not been adequately addressed with less than six weeks to go before the end of the current fiscal year. The board decided against taking up the matter until all five members could be present. Supervisor Jeff Stone was absent last Tuesday.

According to Tavaglione's memo, the board should "publicly state its fiscal and organizational priorities for the coming fiscal year" to ensure the county is "moving forward with one united voice toward a solid economic recovery."

Topping his list of concerns is what to do about the anticipated $50-70 million shortfall in the Riverside County Regional Medical Center budget next year. County officials cite a variety of reasons for the red ink, including low Medi-Cal reimbursements from the state, the delivery of medical care to a large number of indigent patients who don't pay for services and county agencies effectively being subsidized by the RCRMC.

Tavaglione noted that there is less than seven months to go before full implementation of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act -- better known as ObamaCare -- and said the county hospital may not be able to compete for federal funding under the act with such a gaping hole in its budget.

Tavaglione said another major concern was the planned consolidation of the Economic Development Agency and the Transportation Land Management Agency. The county has been merging operations in a bid to achieve greater efficiency and lower costs. But Tavaglione said EDA should be left as a stand-alone department for now.

The supervisor pointed to instances in which the agency proved its worth -- infusing new life into the Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival, handling the Southwest Justice Center expansion and making the Edward-Dean Museum in Cherry Valley a top attraction.

"Dismantling one of our county's key agencies now, at a time when our economy is finally rebounding ... is unwise at best," the supervisor said.

The supervisor also expressed concern about the county's receipt next year of sufficient state funds to cover public safety "realignment" costs. Under Assembly Bill 109, passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, a number of public safety functions previously handled by the state were realigned to counties.

The legislation made counties responsible for supervising all but the most violent parolees -- and prosecuting them for violations. AB 109 also requires that so-called "non-violent, non-serious" offenders not convicted of a sex-related felony serve their time in county jail, instead of going to state prison, even though their sentences could exceed 10 years. The law has exacerbated capacity constraints in local detention facilities, according to the sheriff.

Under realignment, 25,000 prisoners were released early from state correctional facilities to relieve overcrowding, and Tavaglione predicted another 9,000 would be let out soon. Crime and public safety costs will continue to rise, the supervisor said.

He said the board needs to ensure the county's interests are well-represented at the state level and make a decision on a proposed `hub jail" in the central county region.

Tavaglione lastly questioned the ongoing centralization of the county's information technology services. He said there was a "need to move slowly and with caution" to avoid disrupting operations, particularly within the Department of Public Social Services and the county hospital.

The Department of Information Technology is in the process of consolidating 30 separate units to net the county around $12 million in annual savings.

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